The Advance of the Gospel: Selfish Motives vs. True Intentions

In Philippians 1:15-18, Paul provides insight into how the message of Christ is being proclaimed and how the gospel is advancing, despite his imprisonment. Intriguingly, there seem to be two groups of people within close proximity to Paul, possibly in the city where he is imprisoned, each preaching Christ but with divergent intentions.

One group proclaims Christ out of goodwill and love, stepping into the void left by Paul’s incarceration. Their motivation is driven by Paul’s dedication to defending the gospel, which is now public knowledge, given his impending trial for his belief and proclamations. These unsung heroes might not be directly identified, but Paul, in his letter to the Romans, does acknowledge several individuals for their ‘hard work in the Lord’. It’s possible that he might be referring to some of these individuals.

Understanding God’s Plan in Less Than Ideal Circumstances

Such situations force us to ponder the grand designs of God. When seen from a human perspective, we notice problems, gaps, and less than ideal circumstances. Yet, God always seems to have His people precisely where they need to be for the advancement of the gospel.

In the first chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul assures them that they lack no spiritual gift as they eagerly wait for the Lord’s revelation. This statement suggests that they have everything they need to be the Church at that moment. An analogous situation is unfolding here; despite Paul’s imprisonment, the gospel is still being propagated. Those free to continue the mission have everything they need to carry on the work Paul initiated.

Unveiling The Motive Behind Gospel Proclamation

On the other side of the coin, we encounter another group of people with less than altruistic motives. Their proclamation of Christ is driven by envy, rivalry, and selfish ambition. Though they remain unnamed, their objective is clear – to sow discord for Paul.

How does Paul react to this less-than-ideal situation in verse 18?

With joy. He rejoices!

Regardless of the motivations, Paul celebrates that Christ is being preached.

And at this point I have a few questions for old mate Paul.

Does Paul believe that the ends justify the means? Does it matter how Christ is being proclaimed? Are the motives behind our evangelistic or mission endeavours of any importance, as long as the gospel is being spread?

Questioning Our Motives in Ministry

Reflecting on Paul’s emphasis on motives rather than methods, and his subsequent admonishment of selfish ambition, it’s clear that motives do matter. Despite the poor motives of the second group, the gospel continues to advance. This is a cause for celebration, but it also poses a challenge. We must continuously assess our motivations in ministry and mission.

We need to question ourselves: Why am I involved in this ministry? What kind of attitude am I bringing into serving this way? Is my motive pure, or is it centred?

Despite Our Flaws, the Gospel Advances

It’s a humbling realisation that even when we falter, God’s work continues. Despite our own brokenness and failures, the gospel continues to advance. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, salvation comes through grace and faith, not works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Our relationship with God isn’t about performance; it’s about God’s grace gifted to us through Jesus Christ.

In serving God, we have been gifted the opportunity to partake in His work in the world. Even if we falter, God’s work continues, and the message of Christ still advances. It’s not about perfection in our service but the humble acceptance of the fact that God can use us despite our imperfections.

Inherent Challenge and Joy

As we strive to serve in the mission and ministry of Christ we do so with and goodwill. We need to continually evaluate our motivations and seek to align them with the purpose of Christ. When we face the challenges of ministry we seek to do so with humility, remembering that our failings do not hinder God’s work. Instead, they highlight the boundless grace of God, as the gospel continues to advance despite our weaknesses.

We read and watch plenty who on the surface seem to serve with motives that are questionable to us. Yet, as Paul’s experience suggests, even these circumstances cannot thwart God’s plan. The gospel continues to spread, and that in itself is a reason for us to rejoice!

The Triumph of the Gospel

In the end, Paul’s tale is a testament to the triumphant advance of the gospel. Despite less-than-ideal circumstances, despite the challenges of imprisonment, and despite the differing motives of those spreading the Word, the message of Christ continues to resonate far and wide. In every circumstance, we are reminded of the astounding grace of God that ensures the gospel’s advance.

In our service to God it isn’t about a flawless performance or ulterior motives; it’s about participating in the divine symphony of the gospel. Even when our notes falter, the music plays on, bringing joy to the listener and proclaiming the glory of God. The opportunity before us is to be part of the melody in the mission of God through the message of Christ

This post is part of an ongoing series where we dive into the themes, messages, and lessons found throughout the book of Philippians. For earlier posts please see:

The Advance of the Gospel: In Suffering

When baking, it’s often wise to follow a recipe, as it guides us to create the delicacy we envision. It instructs us on the ingredients to add, how to mix them together, and even specifies the right oven temperature to bake that perfect cake you’re dreaming of right now.

In the grand scheme of Christian ministry, we often expect a similar recipe for success. We anticipate a clear path, a favourable environment, and the right mix of circumstances to see the advancement of the gospel. Yet, in the narrative of the Apostle Paul, as seen in his letter to the church in Philippi, we find a different kind of recipe. After affirming the friendship he has with the church in Philippi in v11, Paul goes on to describe his current situation in v12-26. He speaks about how his imprisonment, a circumstance that doesn’t look like a favourable environment, is actually helping spread the message of Christ in v12-14. It might not be the gospel recipe book we would imagine, but amidst suffering and persecution, even amidst selfishness and ego, the message of Christ is being proclaimed and advancing. And it is to these verses we turn now in our little series on Philippians.

The Unexpected Catalyst: Paul’s Imprisonment

In v12-14 Paul writes,

12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

Despite the dire circumstances Paul finds himself in, the gospel continues to advance. Almost unexpectedly, the message of Christ makes progress even while Paul is confined in prison.

While in prison the guards and others in the palace find out why he is there. As the guards rotate through their shifts word gets out that Paul is imprisoned because he claims Jesus as Lord. This has religious connotations because of the Roman gods and idol worship. It also has political connotations because at this time the Roman Emperor was considered divine and a ‘son of god’. When Paul is publicly declaring Jesus as Lord, and as the Son of God, we can understand there might be a bit of push back. No one is to be considered Lord except the Caesar himself.

It seems, however, that Paul’s imprisonment is an inspiration to the other believers with him or those in close contact. The gospel is advancing because Paul is suffering and locked away, and it is inspiring Christians in their boldness to share this message of Jesus with others too.

Despite the less-than-ideal circumstances the gospel is at work inspiring faith.

Inspiration from Unlikely Heroes: Stories of Faith Amidst Persecution

Inspiration for our faith can come from a range of sources and through a range of people. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been deeply moved by the stories of other Christians and the significant impact their lives have had on others. Some of these have been missionaries and Christian workers of the past, like Jim Elliot, John Paton, Corrie Ten Boom, William Jay, JI Packer, Joni Eareckson Tada, to name a few. Others have been people I know, colleagues, family members, teachers, and people in churches I’ve been in. My faith is inspired by those who are living out their faith despite hard circumstances and situations. In fact, it is in hearing these stories, that often include hardship and suffering, I have found the gospel advancing in me, it is working in me through the life and times of others.

That may well be a reason why Hebrews 11 and 12 are so powerful to me. Those chapters in Hebrews list saints of the past, saints of the Bible, who are an inspiration to our faith. Their stories are written to inspire our faith.

There is the aspect of inspiration here, mixed with the persecution of Paul, locked away for his faith and proclaiming the gospel.

Flourishing Faith in the Face of Hardship: The Unforeseen Advance of the Gospel

Today we can search and read information about Christians around the world who are living out their faith despite the threat and reality of persecution, particularly in the majority world.

In the 1950s missionaries were kicked out of China at the time of the revolution yet the gospel advanced to such a degree that there are now millions of believers living out their faith in less-than-ideal situations.

In more recent times in Africa, Boko Haram are an extremist group who persecutes Christians in Nigeria on a regular basis. Yet as many are killed for their faith the Christians continue to live lives of faith under the most harrowing of pressures, instability, and concern for their lives.

In Iraq, Christian families and churches face threats on a regular basis. Despite the constant pressure and threat, house church leaders continue to minister, and against all odds, the gospel continues its work, advancing the message of Christ.

Knowing the stories of Christians past or present are inspiring. Their faith, their hustle, their confidence, and their trust in the Lord. Through their faith and faithfulness they display the ‘all surpassing value of Jesus Christ’ (Philippians 3:8).

How does knowing about these stories impact your own faith? How might you live differently knowing that the gospel can advance in the most unexpected environments?

Through suffering, through hardship, through difficulty the gospel advances. And for us today we can be inspired, encouraged, and given courage in our walk of faith. In what, from a human perspective, might be the least expected environments, the gospel can indeed flourish.

This post is part of an ongoing series where we dive into the themes, messages, and lessons found throughout the book of Philippians. For earlier posts please see:

Gospel Partnership Is Prayerful Partnership

Saying you are going to pray for someone is a common occurrence in the Christian faith. We hear the needs of others and strive to support them. Prayer is our go-to action when we cannot provide tangible help, and it’s far from being the ‘least’ we can do. This is not to diminish the reality that it is more than likely we can do something to meet the needs of others, but in times of grief, in times of poor health, in times of relational breakdown, there might not be anything concrete to do.

One of the best ways to encourage someone in prayer is not to just tell them that you will pray for them. I mean, how many times have we promised to pray for someone, only to forget later? But like a number friends of mine, a great way to fulfil that which you promise is to write the prayer in a text and send it to them. Not only does this mean something to the person on the receiving end, but it also means you actually pray for them too!

Well, this is what Paul does here in the opening section of Philippians, specifically in v9-11. He writes out his prayer for them.

As we have discovered previously, we have read the heart and affection Paul has for this small church, and now we read what Paul prays for them:

And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, so that you may approve the things that are superior and may be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.

Prayerful Partnership: Cultivating Love

First, Paul prays that their love will keep growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment. 

Often we might think we need more information and more knowledge of someone in order to grow in love. We might tell ourselves that we can’t truly love someone unless we have a deeper relationship with them. 

Here Paul flips this kind of thinking and shows that love should already be a given. 

Paul’s expectation is that members of the church already have a foundation of love for one another, and within that thought he prays that this love will grow in knowledge and depth of insight. 

We might think this way toward others, even at the church we attend. It’s a common misconception that we can only genuinely love others when we have a deep knowledge of them, even within our own church community.

Interestingly, this isn’t what Paul expects. Love should already be among us because we know God together in Christ. As 1 John 4 reminds us, God is love, therefore we should love one-another. So, when Paul prays for their love to grow in knowledge and discernment, it’s under the assumption that love is already a foundational element of their church community.

The call here is to go to love quickly, and pray it may grow in knowledge and wisdom.

Prayerful Partnership: Bearing Fruit

Second, Paul prays for the church to discern and approve of superior and excellent things. He hopes that they will be pure and blameless when Christ Jesus returns.

Here is a connection to our future hope. A day when Christ will be with us and we will be with him. How that manifests itself Paul doesn’t say, but he keeps this at the forefront of our minds.

And this leads to the final line, a prayer that the people of God at Philippi might be willed with the fruit of righteousness, that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God. 

Perhaps you’re one who grow their own vegetables. And if you are then I imagine you are aware there is an art to planting your anticipated produce at the right time. If it’s not planted at the right time then there will be no fruit produced. Here we read of ‘fruit,’ a metaphor for the visible actions and attitudes that result from being ‘right’ with God. This fruit, this evidence of our relationship with God, is made possible through Christ Jesus.

In being made right with God through Christ the fruit of that will be displayed in the way we conduct ourselves. The way we love one-another. The way we partnership with joy together. And as Paul writes further in v27, in a manner worthy of the gospel. 

Just as we found joy in the gospel partnership last time, we now discover its prayerful aspect as well. May we be a people who partner with others through prayer, and praying for the fruit of righteousness that comes through our Lord Jesus.

This post is part of an ongoing series where we will dive into the themes, messages, and lessons found throughout the book of Philippians. For earlier posts please see:

Gospel Partnership Is Joyful Partnership

After Paul gives his initial greetings to the church in Philippi (Philippians 1:1-2), we immediately sense just how much joy and affection he has for them. In v3-8, we read of how their partnership in the gospel is a joyful partnership.

Prayers For The People

In v3, Paul gives thanks to God for this church. Even while in prison, he is reminded of them, thankful for them, and feels a great sense of joy for them because of the partnership he has in the gospel with them. I imagine Paul chained up in a Roman prison, a smile on his face as he lifts up prayers every time he thinks of his friends in Philippi.

In this, there is a small challenge for us. How often would we think of people in our lives or throughout the day and lift up prayers for them? I’m sure, like me, you think of numerous people throughout the day as you write an email to them, consider what they’re doing, or see them pop up on our social media feeds. What if we lifted up prayers for people we think of or hear about throughout our day? What a great challenge for us to do.

Partnership With The People

In v5, we are given insight into why this church is so precious to Paul. It is the partnership they have in the gospel.

What ties or binds Paul with the Philippians is the gospel. Together, they follow Jesus and have had their hearts and lives turned upside down because of the message of Jesus. And so, they are bound together as sisters and brothers in Christ as they know him and share his message with others.

In Acts 16, which is where we read of Paul’s first interactions with the people of Philippi, we learn of how the church began. Now, 10-12 years later, as he pens this letter to them, Paul continues to recognise the connection they have with one another, not only because of the support he has received from them but also because they serve and share the message of Christ together.

I began my ministry journey in a small village called Ain Zhalta, in the mountains of Lebanon. Over 15 years ago, my wife and I spent two years serving as teachers and mission workers among an ethnic group called the ‘Druze’. And each Sunday, we would meet in a terribly cold stone and tiled church that had very limited heating, with a handful of other foreigners and a handful of Lebanese people to worship together. But what I remember rather vividly in those services, while listening to Arabic worship songs and a sermon I couldn’t understand, was the connection I had with those in the church there and the connection I had with those in our home church back in Melbourne.

There was a partnership in the gospel. In the gospel, we met together. In the gospel, we prayed together. In the gospel, we had fellowship with one another. In the gospel, we served and shared the message of Christ together.

I’m not sure whether you’ve visited a church overseas, or across our city, or in another part of the country. But when you do, you have an immediate partnership—a partnership in the gospel.

A little while ago, we had visitors from the USA join our church for a month. In my brief conversation with them, they highlighted how great it was to come along and know the connection we have together because of the gospel.

The unity, the partnership in the gospel, is a key concept for us being the church, being the people of God.

There are lots of groups in our communities that meet, do activities, and build relationships and friendships. Many do them very well, whether it’s a kindergarten or a school, a sporting club, an art class, or a library. Whatever it might be, little sub-cultures and communities are formed and centred around something.

Partnership Centred On A Person

As the church, we are centred around the gospel – the person and work of Jesus Christ – the message of Jesus. This is who brings us together, this is who forms the nature of our community, the nature of our church, the nature of our partnership.

No Jesus. No church. No partnership.

Pretty simple, really.

However, when we recognise and embrace the foundation of our faith – Jesus Christ – we begin to see the beauty and richness of gospel-centred partnership. It is in Jesus that we find a common ground, a shared purpose, and a bond that transcends our differences and unites us in love and service.

As we come together in Christ, we experience the joy of true fellowship. Our shared faith, hope, and love in Jesus enable us to support, encourage, and strengthen one another in our journey of faith. We celebrate our victories, weep with one another in times of sorrow, and walk hand in hand as we strive to live out the gospel in our daily lives.

What a blessing, what a joy, that is.

Gospel partnership is therefore a joyful partnership.

No wonder Paul continues to use effusive language about the church and affirm the role God will continue to work in them until the day Christ returns.

Through the gospel, there is joy.

Through gospel partnership, there is a joyful partnership.

This post is part of an ongoing series where we will dive into the themes, messages, and lessons found throughout the book of Philippians. For earlier posts please see:

Slaves + Saints: The Essence of Christian Partnership

It’s not very common these days to receive a physical letter in the letterbox. I’m not sure about you but what usually arrives in our letterbox is bills, junk mail, or some political party telling us what they’re going to do if they are elected. But on occasion, perhaps for a birthday, there might be a short letter written from one of the grandparents. And there’s still an excitement that comes from receiving a handwritten letter from someone. It shows they care; it shows they are thinking about me, and it shows they have gone to a bit of effort and cost to get it to me. 

As Paul opens his letter to the Philippians, we can hear the care, the thought, and the effort that Paul goes to show his joy and affection for this church. And knowing that the church in Philippi is aware of Paul’s imprisonment (1:13) and their worker Epaphroditus is with them and has been sick (2:25-30), I suspect they would be very excited to have received this letter. Then, upon opening and reading, they would have been buoyed by the genuine thankfulness, emotion, and love Paul expresses to the church right from the beginning. 

And so, from the beginning of a Paul’s writing here to the Philippians, we find this letter to be one of genuine partnership. 

Unlike the letters or emails we write, in which we state the recipient’s name and ask them how they are, Paul follows first-century letter-writing custom of stating his and Timothy’s name before giving a little greeting to the church. 

And it’s easy to skip right over these little greetings at the start of the letters we have in our Bibles. Here in Philippians it’s worth noting a couple of things. 

Slaves of Christ

First, notice how Paul identifies himself and Timothy. 

We read, “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus” (1:1).

In the NT it is common to translate the word used here as either servant or slave, and this can be the case here. In our minds, ‘servant’ is a little softer to our ears and imaginations than ‘slave’, but for the church in the Greco-Roman world, this idea of being a slave was a common marker of identity. Slaves in homes, business, or on farms were part of life. And so the idea of being bound to someone else was not a foreign idea as it is for us today. Therefore, when Paul calls himself a “slave of Christ Jesus” he is identifying himself with Christ. He recognises he is bound to Christ. He knows he is under the authority and Lordship of Christ and at his service. 

Saints In Christ

Second, notice how Paul identifies the church.

We read, “To all the saints (NIV: God’s holy people) in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons.” 

Paul uses another couple of identity markers, this time for the people of God at Philippi. Those who have turned to God through Christ are called ‘saints’ or ‘God’s holy people’. Paul acknowledges those within the church, despite their non-Jewish background, are in the continuing line of God’s people. They are being set apart for God, which is a familiar description in the OT of this term ‘saints’ (Exodus 19:4-6; Psalm 135:3-4). This is a little marker of their identity and a helpful reminder in how they should think of themselves. 

I wonder how you think of yourself? Are you a sinner or are you a saint? 

We live in the tension of knowing we are sinners while being assured of the truth that we are in Christ. Through faith in Christ we are considered the people of God, the saints of God. We are the holy people of God who are in Christ Jesus. Paul writes this regularly as he opens his letters to the Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Colossians, and here in Philippians. And while we continue to fail, continue to sin against God, we can know that we are saints in Christ because it is Christ who has decisively dealt with our sin on the cross. 

This should be the regular way we think about ourselves as believers, as saints. 

After writing about reconciliation and peace with God through Christ Paul writes in Ephesians 2:19-20:

19 So, then, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.

If you are struggling with sin or struggling with God’s acceptance of you because of your sin, then I encourage you to dwell on what it means for you to be a saint. For that is what you are in Christ Jesus.

Leaders Under Christ

Alongside this identity marker of being saints is Paul’s reference to the overseers and deacons. These are leaders in the church at Philippi and he wants to make sure they listen to the content of this letter as well. 

In chapter four Paul encourages two female leaders within the church to agree with one-another in the Lord (4:2-3), but more than this Paul is highlighting how the message of this letter is for the whole congregation. There is no separation between the leaders and the rest of the church. They are together the people of God, no one is more special than anyone else. This letter isn’t just for a certain segment of the church, but everyone is called to walk the same walk as each other. 

We often see this occur in churches, where leaders are put on a holier-than-thou pedestal. But those who are in leadership are no more special in the eyes of God than anyone else.

At the church where I pastor I, and the rest of the pastoral team, sit under the teaching of scripture just as much as anyone else. We who are involved in the leadership of the church may have certain responsibilities placed upon us because of our roles, and according to Hebrews 13:17 we will need to give an account before God in due course. But our prayers don’t make it to God any faster, our sins still need to be repented of, confessed, and forgiven through Christ. Our conduct still needs to be worthy of the gospel (1:27). 

Here at the beginning of this letter, even in these first two verses, we see the beginnings of what is a special partnership. A special partnership that already speaks into our identity with God and with one-another.

This post is part of an ongoing series where we will dive into the themes, messages, and lessons found throughout the book of Philippians. For earlier posts please see:

The Enduring Joy of Christ

I am often amazed when I hear stories of people who have gone through such hardship and suffering yet they are still so filled with joy. Recently I heard testimony of believers and Christian workers who were still joyful and hopeful despite being displaced and impoverished because of the war in Ukraine. Those brothers and sisters from Myanmar, who have now moved nearby to where I live, are often full of joy, despite the tragedy to their families and communities. And then there are those closer to home who have gone through the loss of employment, significant health battles, or grief in losing a child and yet they have an enduring joy.

How can this be?

Well, the letter to the Philippians answers that question by giving us a picture of Christ. A picture of Christ that highlights the greatness of his character and who he is. For in knowing Christ and more of him we find an enduring joy and a persistent contentment in our lives.

In our world joy is portrayed to us differently. It is sold to us through material means, or short-term experiences, or goods and services we may use. I mean, even the box that held our online shopping recently had written across it, “a little bit of joy”.

When we come to the Bible, we find joy described in numerous ways.

In the Old testament joy comes through the religious practice of the people of Israel, through the festivals, celebration, and worship of God. The Psalms describe joy in personal adoration and through corporate worship (Psalms 42:4; 81:1-3; 16:8ff; 43:4). Isaiah associates joy with the fullness of God’s salvation and with anticipation of our future state with God (Isa 49:13; 61:10ff).

When we come to the New Testament, we find joy first described through Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:10) then through his entry into Jerusalem toward the end of his life and also after the resurrection (Mark 11:9ff; Luke 19:37; Matthew 28:8). Jesus speaks of joy being the result of a deep relationship with him (John 15:11; 16:22-24). In Acts and Paul’s letters joy is shown to come through (a) being part of the body of Christ, (b) the outcome of suffering and sorrow for Christ’s sake, and (c) a gift of the Holy Spirit that comes from the love of God toward us and our love toward God (Acts 13:52), and described as a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Given that joy is a gift to us we are called to share in the joy of Christ and walk with him in rejoicing in the knowledge and salvation of Christ.

Knowing Christ

In Philippians joy is attached to knowing Christ.

In knowing Christ, we find an everlasting joy that is deeper than that online shopping experience, or that Big Mac you craved for lunch, or the superannuation package you’ve just signed up for. Whatever joy is being sold to us there is nothing that compares to the joy of Christ, which holds through times of gratitude and happiness as well as through times of deep grief and sadness.

For Paul joy comes through his partnership in the gospel with the Philippian church (1:1-11). It comes through the friendship he has with them; it comes through the unity they strive to have with one-another (2:2), and it comes through the ministry he undertakes on their behalf and in his service to them (2:17-18). As they progress in the faith his joy abounds, and despite the circumstances he finds himself in and the heritage had as a Jewish leader (3:7-8), it is only through knowing Christ as Lord that he is able to say, ‘to live is Christ and to die is gain’ (1:21).

Knowing Christ Forms Our Character

I don’t have a radical conversion story. I was bought up in a Christian home and God and faith have been part of my story since I was born. And for many of us we may look upon our own faith journey as being rather ordinary. But I’m aware of others, and you may be too, who have found Christ and had a total change in their character.

As Paul writes to the Philippians, we read that life in Christ impacts our character, whether we’ve had a radical conversion or not.

This is most clearly seen in the high note of this letter, a poetic-like section, that speaks of Christ’s humility. In 2:5-11, Paul encourages the church to adopt the attitude of Christ. He writes,

5 Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus,

6 who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be exploited.
7 Instead he emptied himself
by assuming the form of a servant,
taking on the likeness of humanity.
And when he had come as a man,
8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—
even to death on a cross.
9 For this reason God highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow—
in heaven and on earth
and under the earth—
11 and every tongue will confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Here is the call to follow Christ’s example in his humility, but it also highlights the character of Christ. It is what we might call high Christology, helping us understand more of who Christ is.

And what do we learn of the character of Christ?

We learn that he is humble.

Even though Christ is God and was with God and existed together with God he did not use his position to his advantage or to advance himself. Instead, he let go of such a position in order to become a servant to God and to humanity. He humbled himself, came into our world as a man, and then was obedient or submitted to the will of God to such an extent that he would die on a cross to serve and save the world.

This is the gospel, this is the good news.

And in this good news we see the character of Christ.

Christ willingly leaving his elevated and first position in order to become last and be of service to the world.  

In Jesus’ lifetime he not only displays his character, but he also teaches his disciples about this virtue of humility.

On at least one occasion the disciples are arguing about who is the greatest among them. I’m amused when I think of what that conversation must have been like because I wonder if it was like those conversations people have about who is the GOAT – the greatest of all-time, whether it me a footballer, or basketballer, or cricket player. They just turn into a bit of a mess. But in response to their debate among themselves Jesus tells them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last and servant of all” (Mark 9:33-37).

And this is exactly what Christ does. He has become last and a servant for all and in doing so he is exalted and lifted on high.

Christ’s character was modelled through his preaching and teaching and through what he does.

Knowing Christ Impacts Our Conduct

Early in the letter Paul deals with those who are preaching the message of Christ out of selfish ambition (1:17), in chapter two he calls the church to be united (2:2) and encourages them to hold to the word of life (2:17). In chapter three Paul speaks about the confidence many have in the flesh and their own actions. He talks about his own heritage which many would believe puts him in a good position to be right with God (3:4-6). And as he writes these things he has Christ at the forefront. For in knowing Christ we will conduct ourselves in a way that is worthy of the gospel (1:27).

And this is what he writes to the church in 1:27, “Just one thing: As citizens of heaven, live your life worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

First, note that we have a heavenly citizenship. We are part of the people of God who have an everlasting citizenship. This is assuring in and of itself.

But second, the way in which we conduct ourselves is to be worthy of the gospel. There are practical implications for us as we know and grow in Christ.

For the church in Philippi this conduct is expressed in being united with one-another and putting others first (2:2-3). It is doing everything without grumbling and arguing (2:14). It is holding firm to the word of life (2:16). It is standing firm in the faith together despite those who wish to add to the gospel or destroy the church through self-centred and law-adding false teaching (3:2-6). It is rejoicing in the Lord (3:1; 4:4). It is by being gracious toward others (4:5). It is by not worrying about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition, presenting requests to God (4:5-6). And it is by dwelling on that which is just, pure, lovely, and commendable (4:8).

Joy in Christ comes from knowing him. And in knowing him we find our character and our conduct transformed. Transformed into conduct worth of the gospel of Christ.

This post is part of an ongoing series where we will dive into the themes, messages, and lessons found throughout the book of Philippians.

The Resurrection: The Power of the Gospel

Scripture: Mark 16:1-8

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

As Easter Week concludes today, we go out on an incredible high. For today we are reminded of the power of the gospel, of the power of God in restoring His people to Himself. This restoration achieving its completion through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The resurrection of Jesus is not simply a historical event, but a transformative reality that has the power to change our lives. It is a declaration of the power of God to bring new life out of death, to restore and renew all that has been broken. Just as Jesus’ body was raised to new life, so too can we be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit and made new in Him.

I’m no runner but I’ve known plenty of people competing in marathons or triathlons where they push their bodies to the limits. When they cross the finish line, they are exhausted but full of excitement and accomplishment as they have the satisfaction of knowing they have completed the race. Like crossing the finish line after a race brings a sense of satisfaction, the resurrection reminds us of the victory we have in Jesus, giving us a reason to hope and to trust in a loving and powerful God. The resurrection of Jesus represents for us the victory over sin and death, and in so doing restores us to God. In this restoration we find we can have a relationship with Him, and a satisfaction in life and death because of His work for us.

The resurrection is another tangible demonstration of God’s great love and grace for all who believe. In amongst the sin, the suffering, and the hopelessness that can often pervade our news and social media streams, we can know that the resurrection gives us a reason to hope, a reason to trust, and a reason to love.

Through the power of the gospel our lives are impacted, they are transformed. And this impact is not just for us but for the entire world. Through the resurrection Jesus’ victory over sin and death has the power to bring about healing and restoration throughout our world. It is a message of hope for all people.

While today marks the end of this series and the end of the Easter events it is only the beginning of living in the power of the gospel. As we have worked through these passages from the Gospel of Mark we see the ways in which Jesus fulfils God’s plan for humanity, fulfils that which was written long ago, and fulfils the hole in our soul with the satisfying love, hope, and peace we have with God.

This is a devotional series I’ve written for my church for Easter Week 2023. It follows the Passion narrative in the Gospel of Mark. This is day 8 of 8.

If you’d like them to hit your inbox each morning then please subscribe here.

The Burial: A Final Act of Love

Scripture: Mark 15:42-47

In Mark 15:42-47, Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish council, asks Pilate for permission to take Jesus’ body and give him a proper burial. In doing so he shows a final act of love and respect toward Jesus.

This act of love by Joseph would have been costly for him, most likely resulting in him losing his position and influence in the community. However, he chose to prioritise the honouring of Jesus, recognising His significance, and giving Him a dignified burial over his own reputation.

In our own lives we show love and respect to others in a wide variety of ways, some large acts of love like a wedding ceremony to small everyday actions like writing someone a text to show we are thinking of them. It could be taking the time to listen or offering a kind word to someone struggling. It could mean forgiving someone that has hurt us or being compassionate towards those who are often overlooked.

Those who work in hospice, aged, or palliative care are great examples of people providing comfort and support to people who are at the end of their lives. They offer compassion and dignity to patients and their families, helping them to navigate difficult times with grace and love. In so doing they are imitating that which Joseph does here for Jesus’ body, recognising the need for dignity and honour, and in turn bringing glory to God.

Furthermore, alongside being a costly exercise for Joseph it also highlights the risk he took in honouring Jesus. Mark’s description of Joseph in verse 43 highlights his spiritual perspective as he waited for the Kingdom of God to come, indicating that he recognized there was more to life than just the present one.

Joseph’s status as a “secret disciple of Jesus” (John 19:38) was also noted by Matthew, who referred to him as someone “who had become a follower of Jesus” (Matthew 27:57). While Joseph had previously kept his faith quiet, this risk he was taking would bring it from private to public.

As a follower of Jesus it is possible to keep your faith private for a period of time, but eventually God may call you to go public with it. This can be risky, but it is a necessary step in our growth as believers. In so doing it helps us own our faith for ourselves, deepens our reliance on God, and encourages the faith of others around us. For Joseph he got to care for his Saviour in a personal way and was blessed in being part of honouring Jesus in His death.

I wonder, is there a step of faith, a possibly costly or risky step, that God is calling you to take this Easter?

This is a devotional series I’ve written for my church for Easter Week 2023. It follows the Passion narrative in the Gospel of Mark. This is day 7 of 8.

If you’d like them to hit your inbox each morning then please subscribe here.

The Crucifixion: The Atonement for Sin

Scripture: Mark 15:16-41

The defining moment of our faith occurs today. As recorded here in Mark 15:16-41, we read that defining moment of human history. The moment that marks Jesus, the Messiah and Saviour of the world, becoming the atonement for sin. Here we find the ultimate demonstration of God’s love and sacrifice for us, as Jesus takes upon Himself the sin of humanity and pays the price for our salvation.

I have heard, a couple of times now, about people who are at the supermarket buying their groceries but they can’t afford the total, and so a person behind them simply pays for them.

A group of friends and I were once at a café enjoying a breakfast and we noticed others we knew come in and eat as well. There were only two of them though, so they finished a lot earlier than us and paid and left. When our table got up to go pay the bill, we were highly surprised to find that the whole thing had been paid for! The price we had to pay for our meal and coffee was nothing. These other friends of ours had paid it for us.

This speaks to their generosity, of course. But I also use this example as an illustration of what Jesus has done with our sin. He has generously paid the price for our sin so that we don’t have to. He has sacrificed Himself, a sacrifice that includes His painful death, in order to atone for our sin. 

God Himself, through His Son Jesus Christ, has paid the price for our sins and makes it possible for us to be reconciled to God.

This is what we remember today.

The crucifixion was not just a random event, but rather it was the fulfilment of God’s plan of reconciliation for His people. In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah wrote, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). And through the crucifixion this prophecy is fulfilled as Jesus’ death provided the means for our salvation and the forgiveness of our sins. As we reflect on the events of the crucifixion during this Easter Week, may we remember this incredible act of generosity from God. And in response, may we be a people who live generously for others in response to what He has done for us.

This is a devotional series I’ve written for my church for Easter Week 2023. It follows the Passion narrative in the Gospel of Mark. This is day 6 of 8.

If you’d like them to hit your inbox each morning then please subscribe here.

The Trial of Jesus: A Fulfilment of Prophecy

Scripture: Mark 14:53-65

I listen to several true crime podcasts and often find some of the details and events surrounding these crimes quite incredible. Some, of course, are harrowing and can cause me anguish because of the content and what happens to people regularly around our world. Some of the most distressing though are about people who have been accused and found guilty of crimes they didn’t commit. Within me I find myself angry at the system, angry at the injustice for the people who spend decades incarcerated for something they didn’t do. 

Here in Mark 14:53-65 is the beginning of the injustice of Jesus surrounding His death. For a while the religious leaders have been seeking to grab Him and now through the help of Judas Jesus is placed into their hands. However, despite this being the beginning of Jesus’ unjust suffering which leads to His crucifixion this event is also a fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, demonstrating that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah.

In the passage, Jesus is brought before the religious authorities for questioning, and despite the lack of evidence against him, He is ultimately sentenced to death. This event was foretold in the Old Testament, as the prophet Isaiah wrote, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). This prophecy was fulfilled through the events leading up to the trial of Jesus, as He remained silent and submitted Himself to the will of God, even in the face of persecution.

The trial of Jesus also points to the fulfillment of God’s plan for salvation. Jesus’ death and resurrection make it possible for us to receive those gifts of forgiveness, eternal life, hope, and peace with God. For the restoration of humanity Jesus has to die for the sin of the world. Knowing this, Jesus is able to reply to the high priest’s question of whether or not He is the Messiah in the affirmative (Mark 14:62). Not only this, but He makes sure they know well who He is by saying, “…you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

There could be more said about this trial, but as we come to the cross tomorrow, what a confidence it is for us as believers to know that our Saviour fulfils that which was written long ago and fulfils that which we need now – restoration with God.

This is a devotional series I’ve written for my church for Easter Week 2023. It follows the Passion narrative in the Gospel of Mark. This is day 5 of 8.

If you’d like them to hit your inbox each morning then please subscribe here.